The following trip report is also available on Amazon Kindle, for ease of bookmarking…
Day 1: Wienerwald or bust!
JEN: Good decisions can be made on a whim. That’s how I found myself on this spontaneous bike trip in Europe. It all started in Vienna, Austria. My friend Bun Daniel, also from Los Angeles, was there, visiting and working with BBUC (short for Brilli Brilliant Unicorn Club), and had offered for me to stay with him. I had plans to go to Spain 3 weeks later but the space in between was yet to be determined. That space in-between turned out to be a great adventure. My bike partner in crime and fellow California Girl, Erin Lamb, flew out from Santa Barbara to meet me. We had one mission – to satisfy our appetites for some asphalt spaghetti draped on the Alps.
ERIN: I had just quit my job four days earlier with the desire to be a bag in the wind, floating towards no goals in particular. So, I bought a one-way ticket to Vienna to meet Jen Kyle Whalen, who is stored in my phone as Jen Lloyd Whalen. Five years ago, or maybe six, it’s hard to tell because it was so long ago I can’t Strava-date the ride, Jen and I carpooled to the SoCal season opener road race and it was the first time we had ever hung out. The moment I knew we’d be best friends remains crystal clear: that evening as we were barreling down the 5 towards our hotel in inland San Diego (just kidding, no one ever barrels down the 5 in LA, we were stuck in traffic) she quoted a line from The Nutty Professor, singing, “It’s a full moon tonight!!!!” Whatever’s wrong with her is also wrong with me.
JEN: An early memory I have of Erin is from a Ritte team dinner, where she took an open avocado out of her purse at the restaurant and offered it to people at the table. It was covered in lint. Since then, we’ve had a cosmic and comic connection. She also loves “Dumb and Dumber” as much as I do. I was ready for some female energy, after spending a week in Wien with mostly, well…Wiens. And this particular female is a real ride or die of mine.
ERIN: Jen leaned up against a brick building under a yellow sign that read, “HOTEL” in block letters.
ERIN: At that moment we were Lloyd and Harry, reincarnated as two girls doing a road trip across Europe with two road bikes instead of one scooter and plenty of extra gloves. I was lucky enough to be Harry in this dream world. And so the vagic begins!
Day 2: Vienna
JEN: Vienna is somewhere that feels familiar to me since that’s where my ancestors are from, but it wasn’t a very friendly place to them, as they’re Jewish and were eventually forced to leave, hide or die. But I still feel a connection, and it’s one of the only places on earth where people look like me. And the riding is spectacular.
ERIN: Today we rode. Yeah, I was slower than Jen and Bun Daniel, but it didn’t matter in the enchanted Viennese woods, that magic srsly permeated through the trees. There is a damn good reason fairy tales originated in that area. We went up the Exelberg pass. It’s a classic climb in Vienna, like our Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park in LA but waaaay more grandiose.
JEN: We call him Bun Daniel because he has long, flowing golden hair that he wears in a bun when he rides. Think Fabio with a cyclist body. He’s a real patient angel to have Erin and I stay with him, as messy as we are. We did our best to keep our suitcases from exploding everywhere, but eventually one day I had misplaced my glasses. “Why can’t I find my glasses!” I exclaimed, running around frantically. “Lack of focus and organization,” Daniel responded with a calm rational jab. Oh, right. Was rhetorical, but good point. And it matched the overall vibe of our trip.
ERIN: After the ride, we checked out the Mumock, Vienna’s museum of modern art. Yoko Ono welcomed us with her public orgasm song into an exhibit of archived videos from the ’60s through present day.
JEN: The exhibition was called “Double Lives” and featured archived musical performances and experiences to make you feel as if you were there. Watch the Trailer so you can know what the hell we are talking about.
ERIN: There was this one video that really stood out and the artist’s name escapes me. It was a chilling cold war performance from the late 80’s. This is what went through my head:
Bullets draped over his chest in an X.
French fry hairdo, but not the cool cat 90’s kind, and with a head wrap and mustache.
Then some weird antlered deer.
Part chilling, with a side that smelled like a dark satire.
The band was Laibach, ya ding dong! And it sounds like one of the lyrics is “GET ME A LIGHT BIER!” The frontman is hot but his vibe is super macho. He wouldn’t have a good time being equal in a relationship.
ERIN: Next, a photographic history of Vienna. 1920’s to present day. Two entries, in particular, stood out:
1. In the thirties, graffiti was used as protest communication against the infiltrating forces.
JEN: What’s unique about Vienna is the streets are super clean, you could lick them. But every space on a wall or building is covered in graffiti. People scribble all over the city. And then there are huge beautiful murals, like the ones by the mysterious RUIN… I hear he rides bikes.
ERIN: 2. Vienna used the term “Fake news,” to compare the current political climate of the United States to the regime taking over Europe in the thirties.
JEN: It’s scary to see other countries validate the comparison we’ve made between Hitler and Trump. Especially countries that experienced the terror of his occupation first hand basically being like “yep. same.”
ERIN: Near closing, we found photos of Mick Jagger around a cage. In the back corner behind it was a paper mâché woman empowered by a giant bush, just as naked, obstinate and reclined on a bed as Mathis’s Blue Nude. She was the Viennese goddess who became the guide on our journey through natural and supernatural forces.
Day 3: California Girls in Vienna
JEN: Right before the trip, we made a short film about bikes shorts becoming a fashion trend as part of our California Girls series. Erin and I created California Girls in 2014, a comedy series starring female bike racers. The series was devised on the car ride home from that first season opener bike race (which we both did miserably at). We never thought it would become such a meaningful part of our lives, or that people would even watch it. But here we are! Our friends from BBUC Marvin and Christian are insanely nice and offered to host the world premiere of “Chamois Time” at the beautiful boutique Hotel Am Brillantengrund. I think they knew it would be a shit show they would not want to miss.
But first, we had to ride.
ERIN: The slogan for B.B.U.C. is OUTDOOR DISCO, an inspired sobriquet for “bicycle ride.” DISCO appears up the Achilles of their fancy socks.
ERIN: We met up with the crew at 16:30 to ride the Sophienalpe climb, and yes, that forest is as beautiful as its given name. An incredible display of swings in yellow, orange and blue emerged as we crested out of the woods. Jen and I swang, and acted like kids, everyone else wolfed down recovery bars and checked the Strava leaderboards.
JEN: Here’s the route. It’s one of the most beautiful rides out of Vienna. Everyone was going for the Sophienalpe Strava KOM, including your queen. There are some hot times for it.
ERIN: Back from the ride at 19:15, doors opened to our show at 20:00. We took way too long selecting costumes. Can’t you tell? They’re perfect, right?
JEN: We hardly had time to shower. We were post-ride buzzin, but were sharp enough to grab the red lipstick and plan a comedy routine for our opener. In “Latigo Fever,” the debut release from California Girls, we list a ride route in Malibu that is so ridiculously long and complicated, but entirely accurate. This is a typical conversation that happens when deciding where to ride. It also winks at the SNL sketch “The Californians” where they describe traffic routes in a very lengthy, detailed way. We thought it would be funny to do this bit about a ride in Vienna, trying our best to pronounce every Austrian road name and climb correctly. It bombed. The room was so quiet you could hear a safety pin drop…
ERIN: For our closer, we awkwardly rolled our bikes away while humming “the Beautiful Blue Danube” as the screen descended to play “Latigo Fever”… Sometimes humor gets lost in translation. You laughed, right? I know you did. You love us. We inspire you.
JEN: Nobody knew what the F was going on. There was zero reaction, except for our friend Christian Wieners giggling at us from the back of the room. I wish the screen would’ve knocked me out on its way down.
Check the video and photos out here. Bun Daniel took the pics, party flash style like the Cobrasnake back in the ’00s at the club.
Day 4: To the Alps!
JEN: We said our goodbyes and scooted off in our rental Skoda hatchback. The bikes fit inside, puzzle pieced together, wheels clinked against each other the entire drive. It was the nicest car either of us had ever driven, except for when I would take my dad’s midlife crisis Maserati joyriding. He had to sell that car to get something more practical.
ERIN: Jetstreams streaked the twilight sky over the Alps between Wien and Salzburg.
One looked like a vagina. I take that back, it was a vagina, the vagina that belonged to our guiding goddess with the empowered bush. It became the North Star we followed with voracious appetites for that asphalt spaghetti served on the Alps.
Day 5: Salzburg, Austria
JEN: It’s raining Mozart balls!
ERIN: We’re usually game for a rain ride but this was the thick, wet and cold kind of rain that created massive puddles in the road. The mood went thumbs down. Even the Mozart ball infused muffins did not rectify the spirits, but we both pretended to enjoy the day for each other’s sakes.
JEN: This was probably the worst day of the trip. We realized how lousy it is to just tourist around on foot. We felt like mere mortals! When you’re on a bike, you really get to see a city and cover a lot of ground.
We did have some amazing burgers there, at a place called Daimler’s. The meat over there tastes so much better and probably doesn’t make you grow weird boobies from all the hormones.
ERIN: Salzburg was beautiful so we did a tourist thing and went to a castle on a hill, a steep hill. Apparently the royalty chilled at the top while their servants walked up and down. Imagine the glutes on the servants. “Look at the fun bags on that one!” (Dumb and Dumber quote, I hope you recognized that one.)
JEN: There were mini museums in the castle. One room displayed all the torture devices from the middle ages and it was over for me. I still have grotesque images of the butthole stretching spoon stuck in my head.
ERIN: That spoon freaked Jen out a bit, it was like all the saggy-assed ghosts entered the room to haunt her for an extended moment with their harrowing hollowing tales.
Day 6: Innsbruck, Austria
ERIN: We passed a women dressed like a traditional milkmaid when we parked at our hotel. This hotel, I don’t know where to start to describe it, but Kubrick should have checked this place out before selecting Timberlake Lodge. Dolls sat on dusty doilies staring at us with glowing eyes.
“Mountain womennnnn, we are just two, Mountain womennnnn!” Jen sang an ironic song that would get repeated a few more times on the trip. Not the city life we had hoped for, but hot damn, it provided the alpine glow in the heart of the Alps!
Jen cut me some bangs that night after we saw some old 90210 books in the lobby.
JEN: I was on a real bangs trip. I’m infatuated with long straight bangs like French babes Charlotte Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy, but they always end up looking less French and more “Girl Interrupted” in the ‘growing out” phase. Erin looked adorable and perfect with a long side-swept bang.
ERIN: “God, Innsbruck roads are circuitous!” – Jen
I agreed without admitting I had told her to take a wrong turn–she had already suggested I download Google Maps App twice already.
JEN: I begged her to get Google maps. So many times. WHO USES APPLE MAPS?!
Day 7: Innsbruck Worlds course then to Switzerland
ERIN: While researching maps and routes with high hopes of doing the UCI World’s course that day, we got kicked out at 10 AM sharp with only Annina Janal’s ride on Strava to follow.
Jen insisted that 40 psi wasn’t enough pressure in the tires, so we stopped at a bike shop. The managers did not even acknowledge our existence.
JEN: We asked for a pump and they pointed to an old rusty one from 1955. It was impossible to use, and they stood and watched expressionless from behind the retail desk as we struggled with it. We finally gave up and left, pretty pissed off too. Because we all know they had better pumps in the back.
ERIN: We rolled up to another shop and in the window was a poster of Jen riding a Langma. They recognized her and loved it, then gave us espressos and a pump that worked. We left them the link to the California Girls video before riding off into the Alps.
JEN: Literally the only time I can pretend to be famous in any way is when there’s a giant poster of me modeling spandex.
ERIN: First day on the Alps: GOOD for the soul, BAD for the cadence. There we were, finally, gnawing on the Alpine spaghetti of our dreams.
ERIN: We got so F ing lost. It drove us to buy cigarettes.
JEN: Yes. Cigarettes.
We rode on stretches of beautiful country roads that were part of this year’s road racing Worlds. There were flags and course markers everywhere, it was quite exciting to be close to the action. The course went through rolling plains with cows and beautiful cafes with flower gardens. We stopped at a cafe and Erin pulled an old ham sandwich out of her jersey to eat at the table.
ERIN: The good ol’ Austrian mountain sandwich!
Driving to our homestay on Lake Walensee, Switzerland, we got terribly rerouted and lost in a network of tunnels. We finally made it and sat on the deck with some Swiss bitters. The stress dissolved watching the stars reflect on the water. Just two best friends, bags in the wind together, sitting on a Swiss lake surrounded by Alpine monsters with our road bikes nearby.
“We’re doing something right, Harr’” Jen said as we cheer’d.
Day 8: Overcoming phobias
ERIN: We actually embarked on this ambitious hike to circumnavigate the lake. Two-hundred yards in, we realized the hike was on asphalt… in Europe “Hike” means “Walk” and “Trek” means “Hike.” Um no, a. We’re tired (okay fine, I’m tired, Jen was fine) and b. Let’s save the legs to ride. Let’s just pretend we wanted to preserve our legs for severe Alp smashing in the days to come. Oh, shit, did I say smashing? Maybe I meant mashing because those climbs get steep, they noodle out the legs. Anyways, we packed up our beach stuff and rolled our bikes to a beautiful lakeside beach. We chilled for hours.
And then, Jen looked at her watch
Jen: We can head back now and still have a couple of hours on the rowboat!
Me: Wait. A couple hours!? Holy shit, I don’t do boats.
Jen: How long were you thinking?!
Me: I have recurring nightmares that I’m trapped on a boat!
Jen: What the fuck! Boats are so relaxing, so chill. It … Will… Be… oh so romantic.
Me: Sometimes the boat’s on fire.
Jen: So, you’re scared of fires or boats?
Me: Boats. It’s a form of claustrophobia, I feel trapped.
JEN: I thought, she can’t be serious. How can an outdoor adventurer who spends so much time in the water surfing be afraid of a little rowboat? We were going to face this fear. She wasn’t getting out of this one. That’s what friends are for, right? To force you to do things you don’t want to do.
ERIN: Summer dresses on and wine in the pack, we hoisted the old fashioned rowboat into the water through a mechanical pulley system and set out on this Alpine lake.
ERIN: Isolated from electronics, we were just two best friends sitting on a Swiss Lake at sunset, preparing for the week ahead, which would turn out to be an impressive cycling feat full of soulful epiphanies, hard-learned and earned lessons, serendipitous stumblings, and dumb jokes all wrapped up in 27,000 ft (8,300 m) of climbing over twenty hours of pedal time. Strava Suffer Score exalted it as an effort that could only be quenched by Michelin boasted carbonara pastas, all the food in Spain, nine bottles of wine, daily euro-chic croissants, half a pack of cigarettes, a mullet of salt and excessive chamois time related concerns so annoying the term “yeasted” replaced “chicked” for the twelve times we dropped European men whose only response was, “Well, you must be professionals if you’re riding fast enough to drop me.” No, that wasn’t a run on sentence, please try to say it in one breath, it’s fun.
JEN: Whenever we would pass a guy on the road, we would call it getting “yeasted” since we were doing so much chamois time and both of us were unfit for private affairs.
YOU JUST GOT YEASTED BOYEEEE!
Day 9: The Swiss Alps
JEN: We looked up a route on Strava (again) but since both of us had ditched our Garmins since we stopped racing bikes, we were left with the ol’ trusty original way- pen and paper. This paper, soon to become incomprehensible by back sweat, was all we had. Do you have anxiety yet?
ERIN: The first climb was up into Amden, a ski town. It had us pinned against the edge of an Alp by a line of fancy cars. Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lambo, even a Mercedes whizzed by. Switzerland, man.
JEN: “Even” a Mercedes. lol.
ERIN: The second climb offered six miles at an average 10% grade.
JEN: This was the type of climb where you never sit. It wound through an old ski town that was a farm area during the summer. The sound of cowbells was the only thing you could hear. And we were far from any cross races.
ERIN: Lost again, we just sat on a bench built on the side of an Alp, overlooking a Swiss lake surrounded by more Alps.
JEN: Full disclosure: we got lost trying to beat a Strava segment. We went up some narrow, steep cow road and took a wrong turn. Since our legs were feeling strong from all the riding, we were starting to get the competitive bug again. Here we were, pushing our bodies to the limits, just like a few years ago when we were both racing bikes and taking it very seriously, except this time we weren’t as emaciated.
ERIN: Has anyone driven from Switzerland to Italy over Passo di Spluga? Talk about spaghetti roads—the asphalt draped and folded like a dead marionette over a 2,115 m Alp.
The drive, although gorgeous, was quite unnerving. When we got to the Italian border, we went on a little urban hike to stretch out the legs.
Let’s just say, Ready for Como…
Turned out, Como was not where we were headed. Let’s just say, the wrong side of the lake!
JEN: I knew I had F-ed up by getting the cheapest Airbnb I could find in the vicinity of Lake Como. We were on the less-traveled side of the lake, the right leg, on the inside of the right thigh. There were two places to eat and not a soul in sight. After being isolated in the farmland of Switzerland, we were ready for some upbeat city vibes, but we got 14th century Italy.
I felt bad, man. My thriftiness had robbed us of what would’ve been some wildly fun nights. And I love to see Erin get loose.
ERIN: Jen goes, “Paolino, our Airbnb host, said to meet him at the church because you can’t drive on the street… What does that mean?!”
Then we saw a church steeple on this building carved into the stone village of Onno. The population doubled when we drove up.
Paolino entered the scene. He was this goofy little Italian man. Every time he talked it could have been a practical joke… but it never was. “This is the only fresh water in the town!” Paolino sang as he points to a water trough next to the church.
JEN: It was good water, though.
ERIN: The house was a stone cave with a rod iron spiral staircase leading up to the loft, which contained the only window and two twin beds with cartoon pillowcases. He took us down into what felt like a bunker but was what he called a grocery store. It was filled with dusty cereal boxes, his homemade jam and a daisy-chain of single-serve Nutella packets.
JEN: He drew a map with a PEN AND PAPER ON A NAPKIN of a bike route he suggested. It involved a pizza stop and was on/ly 47 Km.
ERIN: Jen goes, That will only take us a couple of hours, we will probably do more climbing.”
Paolino: MORE CLIMBING!? You girls are crazy
JEN: Once Paolino finally left, we went to find some food. Only one place was still open in town. And it was 20:30. It was a pizza place/coffee/bread store called “Onnolulu.” Great. A pun. How fun. Food and a chance to get lei’d.
ERIN: More bread and dough! A wide-eyed death stare connected Jen and me. We do not need to ingest any more yeast. No bread, no dough, no beer, no sugar until the unfathomable inflamed and itchy not-so-vagical thang disappears.
ERIN: Claudio was the pizza chef at Onnolulu. When he appeared with the pizzas, he sat next to Jen.
Claudio: Where are you girls from?
Jen: California, LA
Erin: Santa Barbara.
Claudio: Oh, me, I go to LA in October. My English is bad, I am sorry.
Claudio reappeared with an unopened bottle of limoncello and three shot glasses. He opened the bottle and poured us each a shot. “Salude!” Claudio said as he knocked one back. Jen and I sipped. It tasted like melted Lemonheads.
Claudio: You like?
Jen and Erin: Si (Just trying to be polite)
Claudio: Good! I’ll come back for the next round.
“It tastes like the pesticide medicine I used to have to take in Mexico City from when I was five” Jen whispers to me.
I poured mine into my water glass.
Claudio returned for more. He poured seconds and thirds… for all of us. He stayed longer. His French was better than his English, so I spoke French with him forgetting that it was a dick move on my part because Jen spoke Spanish and no French.
JEN: It wasn’t a dick move. I was happy to let Erin take the reins on this uncomfortable conversation and just sit there and take in the night.
ERIN: He shared some laughs, but the limoncello chipped away at his façade, and his melancholy laced with thoughtful self-discontent seeped into the conversation.
He left and returned without a bill. “The dinner, a gift from Claudio. Je vous ai beaucoup aimé parler. Vous êtes les filles gentilles, seriousement. C’est pas pour la sexe, mais pour vos gentillesse.” (Translation: [The dinner is my gift.] I loved to speak with you two. You girls are kind. It’s not for sex, it’s because of both of your kindness).
Jen grabs my knee “Er, let’s go.”
Time to say good-bye.
Day 10: Lago di Como and Madonna del Ghisallo
ERIN: The limoncello played a number on our hydration levels. We had quite a bit, see, that bottle was full before.
We ignored the headaches though because let’s be real, we were in Lago di Como. Bring on the 2500 meter day, and the climb called, “Madonna del Ghisallo.” Madonna translates to Mary, like the Mother of God, but to us children of the 80’s it meant dancing up the mountain to the cadence of “Like a Prayer.”
We passed an older man on the first climb.
HIM: Are you girls pro?
Fuck man, you think just because we pass your slow, sorry ass that we have to be pro or something?
US: No. We’re just faster than you…” We drop him and yell “YEASTED!”
ERIN: We made a wrong turn while trying to ditch another barnacle and approached the Madonna climb from the wrong side.
At the summit, we found a statue of victorious cyclists alongside one who had fallen. It deeply moved us, so we snapped some venerating photos next to it. A church sat nearby, and we assumed it was just because it was Italy, one of those countries built on Catholicism during some agro historical period. But what we found took our breath away—old bikes, photos, and candles placed in respect, memory, and honor for all of the fallen cyclists of the sport. This was Madonna del Ghisallo’s chapel, the patron saint for cyclists. I didn’t even know there was a patron saint for cyclists.
JEN: We should start a new religion.
ERIN: The last climb of the day was over an hour long. I was dehydrated and bonked, without food or water. Once we made it to what we thought was the top, another twenty-minute pitch appeared.
“Come on, Ghisallo, send me wings.” Fun Fact: First time I prayed in twenty years. And, it worked.
The wings, she sent. Everyone reading this probably knows that alternate reality of clarity that descends when digging into the dregs to make it up those lingering climbs, the dingleberries of defeat. I ruminated on quenching my thirst through a daydream of me covered in sweat and dirt sitting next to that water trough in Onno, just gulping in the water. At some point, I looked up to see Jen cresting the hill into a cloud. We had reached the highest peak in the region. And, no mirage, there was a bar at the top.
JEN: The bar was beside an observatory on a grassy hillside. I’m sure this was a place where many photos were taken of races and spectators, you could almost envision the wool jerseys and cigarettes. We went inside the bar for cokes and chips.
ERIN: I melted into bliss when the salt from the chips hit my lips, so much so that I grabbed the salt shaker and vigorously emptied its contents into my chip bag and experienced an evanescent nirvana while alternating between slamming the extra-extra salted chips and coke.
JEN: Erin was not quite on planet earth yet. People were staring.
ERIN: Muro di Sormano: When we left the bar, we saw a road closed to cars. According to Strava maps, it was also a short cut. So, we decided to give it a go, unsure if it stayed paved or was a one-way in the wrong direction or what. But, why not, it looked cool. We descended an insanely steep grade into, Jaysusssssss, the term “wonderland” doesn’t even do it justice. The pavement was covered in block letter Italian quotes and geometric designs.
Erin: Where are we!?
Jen: This has to be magic.
It was Muro di Sormano– The WALL of Sormano. A hill so steep that it was out of the game of professional cycling for over forty years, dormant from 1963 until 2006 and covered in quotes by only the most inspiring cyclists– Gino Bartali and the likes.
JEN: We rode back to the tiny village of Onno and Erin got to fulfill her depleted daydream of taking a pic at the centuries-old water trough, looking like a timeless tired cyclist that could’ve been at the Muro di Sormano race.
Back in Onno
JEN: We dragged ourselves to the front door
Erin: Hey Jen, someone could lock us in the house from the outside.
Jen: That sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. Shit.
Erin: Our gate wasn’t shut, was it?
JEN: Before we left on the ride, we hung our wet laundry on every nob and knuckle inside the house. Underwear we should’ve thrown out five years ago decorated the rod iron staircase. When we entered the house, we discovered that it had all been placed neatly onto a drying rack we had not found. The water jug was refilled. Overly ripe fruit in the fridge. A box of fake Versace scarves on the table.
Despite it being creepy that he entered the Airbnb and touched all of our underwear (Victoria’s secret ain’t a secret no more) he left a nice note. The note told us to take some of the scarves as a present. My friend who works in fashion looked at the scarf when I got home and told me he was pretty sure it was real, and that items get sent to the wrong place all the time in Italy. Who’s fancy now?
Paolino wanted to hang hard. He kept hitting me up to cook us dinner or take us on a boat. Sometimes being a woman isn’t all “Who run the world? Girls.” It’s more about self-preservation and having to say no to adventures and fun offers because of the vulnerability of being one!
Erin: We wanted to dine in an Italian city, bustling with life and bursting with Italian food, but Como was an hour away and we learned the Bellagio to be a conceited tourist-trap, and both required driving. Plus, good wine is around three euro a bottle, so no one wanted to drive.
We walked the two minutes to the fish place and had another romantic dining experience. After dinner, we crawled onto the rooftop of the house we could be locked into from the outside, with tea and cigarettes while reminiscing about past travel catastrophes and near horror stories resulting from the trusting spontaneity that we both shared, for better and for worse.
Day 11- Nice to Cannes via Picasso and Matisse’s hometown
JEN: We were staying in a little loft studio apartment in Jean Médecin. There were basic-bitch inspirational sayings pasted all over the place. “Life is one great big smile.” “Live life to the fullest, embrace one another.” Shit like that. So, we did and immediately exploded our suitcases all over the apartment.
ERIN: Le Café du Cycliste was our first stop in Nice. It was a coffee shop with nice bike kits and fancy bikes. I felt so in place and so out of place at the same time. We enjoyed true French croissants and espressos. A cute guy named Thibault worked there and recommended we ride up Col de Vence on our way to Cannes.
ERIN: Pee stop: We stopped in Vence at Henri Matisse’s old pad, which is now a museum. Matisse was a French painter at the turn of the century. He painted the Blue Nude in 1907, she was heavily referenced in my favorite book and she posed just as reclined as our Goddess sculpture in Vienna, more confidently than Picasso’s Blue Nude of 1902, who was painted in despair after his friend died. Picasso also lived in Vence. It felt so culturally rich to pee there.
ERIN: Col de Vence: A 9.9 km climb, with an average grade 6.5%, winding up a hillside had views of the Maritime Alps along the Cote d’Azur. It was frequently a part of the “Paris-Nice” race. People see UFO’s there all the time too. The only UFO we saw was a bright blue station wagon built in the 80’s and full of teenage boys. It drove past us twice, both times coming from the same direction. Even more alien, though, instead of honking obnoxiously at us, as most French drivers did while we were on bikes, they cheered us on.
JEN: It was a car full of Spicolis.
I was really feeling the climb, the deserted clean switchbacks, the aliens were calling my name to push my legs. I remember going for the KOM, I think I was minutes off.
ERIN: After the magic of Col de Vence we navigated through coastal towns along the Cote D’Azur with aggressive traffic. At some point, I misread as “Thousands of Baguettes Street.” The beauty of the bonk can be that alternate reality it throws you into, the one’s where streets in France are called, Thousands of Baguettes. I don’t remember what it ended up actually saying, so to me, there is still a sign between Nice and Cannes that says, Thousands of Baguettes.
ERIN: And then, five hours after later, we were in Cannes. Crusted with salt leftover from dried sweat, we pushed our bikes past the bougie storefronts: Givenchy, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Valentino… and, hold on, Fred!? There’s actually a fashion designer named “Fred?” We did what any and every roadie would do, took pictures.
ERIN: And, it gets better. Doubling up on the French version of Natty Ice and street “Sawndweech au jambon et fromage” in hand, we carried our bikes onto a fancy beach with the Mediterranean Sea lapping at its sands. And because the French don’t care, well we thought they didn’t care, or maybe we just didn’t care, we pulled our suits out of our back pockets and dropped cham’ right there on the beach and became Matisse’s don’t-give-a-fuck Blue Nudes for a moment.
Once we got our suits on we noticed some guys laughing their asses off at us, and as soon as we looked up they flexed their muscles. Then they did some push ups. So we did some push-ups back at them. Perhaps the living French version of our California Girls is Les Garçons de la Côte D’Azur.
JEN: We tromped barefoot through the sparkling streets of Cannes, our bike shoes dangling from our handlebars. The contrast of us versus the fancy pants people walking around made me feel punk again. But in Europe, you don’t get the same scoffs you do for riding bikes like in the US. In the states, the general population thinks bikes are for people with DUIS or who can’t afford cars. In Europe, they get it.
ERIN: (PS- for anyone looking for the practical hints of this kind of trip, we took the train home. PPS- anyone looking for the practical notes… seriously, here?)
Day 12 – Col d’Eze isn’t easy
…but it’s better than getting stuck in a tunnel without a shoulder
JEN: Our last day in France! We went to the beach again, and Erin read my tarot cards. She has a way with these cards. I’ve seen her Ms. Cleo people into believing a lot of things, and have witnessed the cards materializing.
ERIN: Un fois plus, French for, one more… one more ride in France. We gambled beating sunset thinking we’d win (eventually lost) and chose the ‘easiest’ ride in the Maritime Alps, Col d’Èze. Named after a medieval village, it did not stand for easy, but relatively it was, with a 4.7% average grade over only 9km. This climb had its debut in the 1953 Tour de France when the Dutch, Wim van Est took the stage win. It is frequently used as the crowning climb in Paris-Nice. The other side of the hill drops towards Monaco.
The route back along the coast literally went through rock, a tunnel through rock. It was meant for cars and had no shoulder. We did not realize that when we descended down a 5km steep grade. Our short easy ride all of a sudden got longer and harder, forcing us to flip it, climb the bitch pitch and navigate the urban streets of Nice past dusk without lights.
We spent our last romantic friend’s dinner at a paella place in France, the day before heading to Spain, so we ordered some fish dish but still convinced the waiter to bring us leftover paella from the kitchen.
JEN: Something magical about Erin is that she was raised in Santa Barbara, and has a gypsy-like behavior that supersedes any social expectations. So she felt more than comfortable asking the waiter at the fancy restaurant if we could have the leftover paella of our neighbors who didn’t have the appetite to finish it. And it’s so refreshingly charming that it works sometimes.
On the way back to our apartment, we passed a rowdy bar. Some Canadians stopped us and pulled us into the bar. Inside, people were dancing on the tables and spilling beer. Erin and I got up on the wooden tables to headbang and stomp our hearts out. Feeling all of the feels that the trip had given us. Our legs felt the riding, and our spirits were full from our travels and all the rides, just being bags in the wind.
Day 13 – To Espana
ERIN: The guy at our Ibira ticket counter was tall and skinny. His demeanor suggested that he was usually bored and found entertainment in simple things, such as our entrance into the airport. We dragged huge bike bags and suitcases behind us and had purses falling off our shoulders while spilling more coffees. He found so much delight in watching us struggle that he promised us cheaper bike bag fare if we went over to a counter across the airport. Once we were there, he changed the location again. This ruckus ended up being worthwhile because he let the 100-euro-a-bike fee slide and upgraded us to first class for free.
We were greeted at the Airport in Spain by Jen’s Spanish flame and made it to his family’s house in Guadalajara, where we received the Spanish warm welcome of a late afternoon lunch of paella and tortilla and croquetas and coffee and cake and a bike ride on legs so shredded that the term “pulled pork” is too gentle to describe the feeling.
JEN: Jamon is a better way to describe your leg muscles while riding in Spain. Instead of the pig ham hock in the slicing vice, it’s your quad, ready to be shredded into “contact lens-thin” slices. We ate a lot of ham and Spanish tortilla.
They said, “let’s go for a nice ride.” Our jamon legs were in for some extra shredding. A group of about 8 met us at the house. The Vuelta was on. We ate more cake and cookies. And then left to ride through the Spanish countryside.
ERIN: The pace picked up and it felt like a peloton powering through golden fields and old brick towns with castles.
ERIN: Holy damn, we were riding in Spain. But shit man, I was beat. I looked over at someone next to me, and watched him focus on the wheel ahead, tired but still pushing. The meaning of the “Outdoor Disco” finally resonated. I saw the flashing feet and all of a sudden rode hard without worry or regret. We were all in it together and we all would get something out of it if we kept each other going. Dancing along the rolling hills of Guadalajara, or “QUADalajara” for those actually taking the pulls up front.
JEN: When we got back to the house, everyone started to take their jerseys off, and then got in the jacuzzi, with their chamois still on! It was a bacteria infestation! But for them, it was just another day in Spain. I grabbed a beer and joined them. Yeasty cham and all.
ERIN: I was pretty hesitant, but eventually joined the soup.
JEN: We spent the next day in Madrid and caught the finish of the women’s Vuelta and slapped a California Girls sticker on a street pole near the 200-meter sign. Because…represent.
ERIN: Why the hell not, right? And that goes for all of it. Why the hell not.
JUST IN CASE YOU STRAV’
Here are most of the maps that go along with the thick literature suffused magic above.
Ride 1: Jen, Erin and Bun Dan in Vienna. d=57km, elevation=1,200m and 2hr35min ride time
Ride 2: BBUC Ride in Vienna. d=62km, eleveation=1130 km and 2hr45min ride time
Jen’s Ride “Massive Relative Effort”
Ride 3: Innsbruck, Austria. d=58km+ elevation=1300+ and over 3hr15 ride time *phone died
Jen’s Ride – did not record
Ride 4: Lake Wallensee= 49km, 1750 m, 3hr
Ride 5: Como, Italy. d=79km, 2600m, 4h15min
Ride 6: Nice to Cannes with a pit stop at Henri Maths’s old pad d=96km, 1800m, 4h45min
Ride 7: Col D’Eze, Nice France d=30km, 950m, 2h
Ride 7: Guadalajara, Spain d=49km, 616, 1h50hmin
Jen’s Ride – did not record
Ride 7: Guadalajara, Spain d=75km, 800, 2h46min